Code-Based Arts

Code-based media creation has become a pivotal element in the contemporary digital landscape. This domain encompasses various disciplines, tools, and methodologies that enable creators to produce interactive, generative, and algorithmic artworks.

Historical Overview #

The history of code-based media creation can be traced back to the mid-20th century. Early pioneers like Alan Turing and John von Neumann laid the groundwork for computational theory, which would later influence digital art. In the 1960s and 70s, artists such as Frieder Nake, Vera Molnár, and Manfred Mohr began experimenting with algorithmic art, using computers to generate visual compositions.

The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of software-based art, with artists like Harold Cohen developing programs like AARON, which created autonomous artworks. The advent of the internet and multimedia technologies in the late 20th century further expanded the possibilities for digital and interactive art, leading to the emergence of net art and virtual reality (VR) art.

Trends and Categories #

Here is the expanded and integrated list with two additional categories on algorithmic music and algorithmic sound art:

  • Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs): A trend in AI art where neural networks generate art, often creating hyper-realistic or surreal images. Artists like Refik Anadol, Mario Klingemann, and Anna Ridler explore this frontier.
  • Blockchain and NFTs: The use of blockchain technology to authenticate and sell digital artworks as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Artists like Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), Pak, and Mad Dog Jones (Michah Dowbak) have gained significant attention in this space.
  • Interactive Storytelling: The evolution of narrative forms through interactive media, as seen in VR experiences and web-based stories. Artists like Chris Milk, Jonathan Harris, and Sutu (Stuart Campbell) are key figures in this field.
  • Data-Driven Art: Increasing use of big data to inform and shape artistic creations, making data visualization an essential skill for modern artists. Notable practitioners include Ryoji Ikeda, Laurie Frick, and Jer Thorp.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) Art): The integration of digital content with the physical world through AR technology, allowing artists to create immersive experiences that blend real and virtual elements. Artists like KAWS (Brian Donnelly), Nancy Baker Cahill, and Cyril Diagne have utilized AR to expand the reach and impact of their installations.
  • Algorithmic Art: The creation of art through the use of algorithms and computational processes, often resulting in complex and intricate designs. This trend includes fractal art and procedural generation techniques. Artists like Casey Reas, Manolo Gamboa Naon, and Lia are prominent in this area.
  • Bio-Art: An interdisciplinary art practice that incorporates living organisms and biological processes. Artists in this field often collaborate with scientists to explore themes of life, biotechnology, and ethics. Eduardo Kac‘s “GFP Bunny” is a notable example, and Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Kathy High are also significant contributors.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) Art: The use of VR technology to create immersive, three-dimensional environments that viewers can explore. This medium allows for highly interactive and engaging artistic experiences. Artists like Rachel Rossin, Marina Abramović, and Laurie Anderson are pioneers in this space.
  • Robotic Art: The use of robotics and automation in art creation, where machines are programmed to produce artworks. This trend explores the relationship between human creativity and machine intelligence. Artists like Patrick Tresset, Stelarc, and Ken Rinaldo use robotic systems to draw and paint.
  • Net Art: Art that is created, distributed, and experienced primarily through the internet. This form of digital art often involves interactive and participatory elements, leveraging the unique capabilities of the web. Early pioneers like Olia Lialina have paved the way for contemporary net artists such as Jodi (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans) and Rafaël Rozendaal.
  • Glitch Art: A style of art that embraces digital or analog errors and artifacts. This form of art often involves manipulating software, data, or hardware to produce unexpected visual effects. Artists like Rosa Menkman, Phillip Stearns, and Nick Briz are known for their work in this area.
  • Affective Computing Art: Art that utilizes affective computing technologies to recognize and respond to human emotions. This can include installations that change based on viewers’ emotional states, creating a dynamic and personalized experience. Interactive works by artists like Lauren McCarthy, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Chris Salter explore this intersection.
  • Digital Collage: The assembly of various digital elements, such as photographs, illustrations, and textures, to create a cohesive artwork. This technique can involve complex layering and digital manipulation. Artists like Ash Thorp, Maggie Taylor, and Julie Mehretu utilize digital collage to create visually stunning pieces.
  • 3D Printing Art: The use of 3D printing technology to create physical sculptures and installations from digital designs. This allows for precise and complex structures that were previously difficult to achieve through traditional sculpting methods. Artists like Joshua Harker, Neri Oxman, and Ioan Florea explore the potential of 3D printing in contemporary art.
  • Algorithmic Music: The creation of music through the use of algorithms, often involving the use of generative processes and computational models to compose soundscapes and musical works. Artists like Autechre, Holly Herndon, and David Cope are influential in this genre.
  • Algorithmic Sound Art: The use of algorithms to create and manipulate sound for artistic purposes, often resulting in experimental and immersive audio experiences. Artists like Ryoji Ikeda, Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai), and Andrea Polli are key figures in this field.

Tools and Software #

Here is the combined and alphabetically ordered list of software tools for media art and code-based sound and visual creation, along with links to their respective sites:

  • Blender: An open-source 3D creation suite that supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline, including modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, and motion tracking.
  • Cinder: A C++ library for programming with a focus on creative coding.
  • Jitter: A set of video, matrix, and 3D graphics objects for the Max visual programming environment.
  • Max/MSP: A visual programming language for music and multimedia, widely used for creating interactive installations.
  • OpenFrameworks: An open-source C++ toolkit designed to assist the creative process by providing a simple and intuitive framework for experimentation.
  • Open Sound Control (OSC): A protocol for networking sound synthesizers, computers, and other multimedia devices for purposes such as musical performance or show control.
  • p5.js: A JavaScript library that makes coding accessible for artists and designers, building on the principles of Processing.
  • Processing: An open-source programming language and environment for visual art, created by Casey Reas and Ben Fry. It simplifies the creation of generative and interactive artworks.
  • Pure Data (Pd): An open-source visual programming language for multimedia, designed to create interactive computer music and multimedia works.
  • SuperCollider: An environment and programming language for real-time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition.
  • TouchDesigner: A node-based visual programming language for real-time interactive multimedia content.
  • Unity: A popular game engine used for creating VR and AR experiences, offering robust tools for real-time 3D development.
  • Unreal Engine: Another popular game engine used for creating VR and AR experiences, offering robust tools for real-time 3D development.
  • vvvv: A hybrid visual/textual live-programming environment for easy prototyping and development.

References #

  • Anderson, Laurie. All the Things I Lost in the Flood: Essays on Pictures, Language and Code. Rizzoli, 2018.
  • Fry, Ben, and Casey Reas. Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. MIT Press, 2014.
  • Koblin, Aaron. “Flight Patterns.” Aaron Koblin Projects, 2009,
  • Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Preabsence. Hatje Cantz, 2005.
  • Nake, Frieder. Algorithmic Revolution: On the History of Interactive Art. ZKM, 2004.
  • Paesmans, Dirk, and Joan Heemskerk (Jodi).
  • Reas, Casey, and Ben Fry. Make: Getting Started with Processing. O’Reilly Media, 2010.
  • Reas, Casey, and Chandler McWilliams. Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.